How to Eat Cheap in the World’s Most Expensive Destinations

Tips & Tricks

When planning a trip to one of the world’s most expensive cities, most travelers are looking for creative methods for reining in expenditures to make the vacation affordable. One area of travel where expenses can add up quickly is food. If you’re headed to cities like Copenhagen, Tokyo, Sydney, Paris or Zurich, here are some suggestions on how to eat cheap in these expensive destinations.

Go for the Street Food and Fast Food

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Street food is an integral part of cultures all around the globe, even in some of the world’s most expensive cities. Street food doesn’t mean low quality food either, especially when food stalls have even earned Michelin stars, like the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in Singapore. Street food is delicious and can fill you up fast for far less than you’d spend in a sit-down restaurant.

Research the fast-food options where you’re traveling, too. In some Asian destinations, you’ll find locals eat at convenience stores that sell a wide range of delicious eats. The 7-11 in Taiwan is a favorite hangout for college students, some of whom will go there for a night out with friends because they can eat good food and buy cheap beer directly in the store.

Splurge on Lunch

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If you’ve got your eye on a splurge-worthy meal at a fancy place but are concerned about the price, look into their lunch menu offerings. It’s not uncommon for restaurants in cities like Tokyo to offer a massive lunch spread for far less than if you booked a dinner reservation. You’ll want to reserve early though, as most locals are vying for the same reservation times.

Look for a Buffet

While buffets sometimes get a bad rap, they are popular all around the world. In expensive cities like Copenhagen, buffet restaurants are popular, and are one of the best options for cutting food costs. You aren’t necessarily skimping on quality either, as you’ll find a bevy of healthy items like salads, vegetables, meat and fish.

Cook Your Own Meals and Drink at Home

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One option for saving some cash is to eat in if you’re staying in a location with kitchen facilities. This not only saves money on groceries versus prepared meals, but you’re also saving on service charge and/or gratuity depending on where you’re traveling.

The same goes for drinking. Some destinations have very high prices on alcohol, and even a “sin tax” to deter consumption. A night out can equal your trip’s food budget if you’re not careful. If you want to try the local beer, pick up a few in the market or local beer shop to drink in your room. In a fancy destination known for its wine? Restaurant mark-ups are sometimes as much as three times the cost, so you’re better off picking up a bottle from the winery. Drink it in your room or take it back home with you.

Pack Your Snacks

Buying snacks in expensive cities means you could be spending the equivalent of an extra meal per day in some cases. Save some space in your luggage and buy non-perishable snacks before leaving home to have in your room and carry around while you’re exploring. Verify you aren’t bringing anything that is prohibited though, like dried meats, fresh fruit, etc. Just pop a granola bar in your backpack and you’ll have a quick go-to when hunger strikes in between mealtimes.

Explore Happy Hour Specials

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Many destinations have happy hour and reverse happy hour deals. This can save you a lot of money — especially if food is discounted or even complimentary in some cases. Take aperitivo time in certain parts of Italy. Purchase a drink and you’ll get free appetizers at your table, or access to a buffet for a certain amount of time.

While Mexico itself may not rival some other destinations for world’s most expensive destinations, spots like Mexico City can add up if you’re staying in a 5-star hotel and dining at world-famous restaurants. To save a little cash, look for bars that offer free botanas if you buy a drink. It’s not uncommon to have multiple plates of food delivered if you order a beer.

Look at Benefits on the Tourist Cards

Many cities offer city passes or tourist cards that offer discounts and free admission to a wide variety of attractions. What you may not realize is many of these also include dining discounts. In many cases, it’s anywhere between 10% and 20% off at participating restaurants.

Book Lodging with Breakfast Included

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Score a lodging deal with free breakfast included and you can get a filling start to your day before ever stepping outside. Weigh the difference in cost between rooms, as some booking sites may be running specials that include breakfast for the same price. Some hotels may not offer more than a simple continental breakfast, while others have massive buffets with made-to-order omelets and more.

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